By Samuel Harvey
Samuel Harvey helps entrepreneurs and investors in the Philippines to break the borders of their current passports through the Residency and Citizenship-By-Investment programs. He advises business people, including startups, to thrive abroad through the acquisition of a second, more powerful passport: the Golden Visa or Golden Passport.
But before Samuel could advise high and ultra-high-net-worth individuals and businesses, his first job as an intern at his family’s law firm in Montreal, Canada was making coffee and tea.
Today, we welcome Harvey Law Group’s Director of Business Development in the Philippines and Hong Kong to The After Six Club’s Ambitious Tribe. Read on and learn how an ambition-driven scholarship helped Samuel set up Harvey Law Group headquarters around the world.
I was a terrible student and hated school. My grades were miserable after college so I ended up not being able to go to law, medicine, or even business school. Luckily, I got a scholarship that was not based on grades, rather, it focused more on ambition and perspective.
I had three weeks to build up the scholarship file. Once approved, I had less than a month to prepare everything, move to China, and enroll in my chosen university.
I studied Mandarin for eight months. After that, I studied International Law (in Mandarin) for a while. After two years, I returned to Canada to finish my law degrees, in French and English this time. Then, I applied for internships in our family’s law firm, Harvey Law Group.
At first, I even used my other last name to avoid being stigmatized as a privileged kid. All my internships were almost unpaid. I started by making and serving coffee. I got promoted and started doing photocopying and scanning files. After several internships, working in Vietnam, Thailand, and Hong Kong, I was offered the opportunity to move to the Philippines and support the new Harvey Law Group office in the country.
Our family business was established in 1992 in Montreal, Canada. We started with only one office. Nowadays, we operate globally with 20 offices around the world. As a law firm, we practice labor and investment laws, which is the traditional side. The innovative side is when we advise on Residency and Citizenship-By-Investment programs and assist entrepreneurs, investors, and families acquiring a better life by breaking the borders and restrictions of their current passport.
What do you believe makes your business stand out?
Our track record, expertise, and the fact that we are results-oriented. While everybody says that, most aren’t!
Is it always necessary to be passionate about what your business is about in order for it to succeed?
Definitely! Like all start-ups and businesses, you have challenges and consequences in everything you do. But for us, I believe this is multiplied by the fact that we are a law firm (liability-wise) and that we help families. Missing out on details is not an option when consequences could be as dramatic as denial (not just for the investor or entrepreneur, but also for the dependents), ban (from applying again) and/or exposing our professional liability.
Was it initially just you or do you have partners? If yes, how did you find them? What are their roles?
Nowadays, it is really a family affair. My life-partner, Atty. Elisabeth Dumais, is our Director of Operations here in Harvey Law Group Philippines. She also assists the management of the Cambodia office. We manage different sectors of the firm. She is more administrative and corporate while I am more focused on immigration and business development.
What was the turning point for you that made you decide that it’s time to put this business up now?
Opening the Philippine office was all about timing, and also since there had been a huge increase in requests for our services. We had a satellite office for seven years in Ortigas, Pasig City before making the move to have a full-fledged office.
On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate the importance of having a business plan?
Five. As legal practitioners, we often plan for the worst-case scenario. Like a business plan, this helps prevent obvious (and sometimes less obvious) things that may or may not happen and help guide on how you’ll react to them.
How did you build your customer base? What form of marketing has been most effective for you so far?
Word to mouth, mostly. Otherwise, they find us.
How do you generate new ideas for your business’ growth?
We think outside the box. For example, as a law firm, providing free consultation is unusual. We have fixed legal fees and provide all the information for free. This gives us an edge from others who simply charge for every bit of information you need to make such an impacting decision.
What kind of company culture are you implementing? What are your core values?
- Straightforwardness: No bullshit approach.
- Managing our client’s expectation: Options, delays, documents, and procedures.
- Professionalism: We act in the interest of our clients, not ours.
How do you deal with major mishaps? What would you say is one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
Straightforwardness. I admit my wrong when I make a mistake. So I expect others in my team to do the same. Although I tend to have no filter, I’ve learned the hard way that being too direct is not always the solution.
How can you prevent mistakes or do damage control?
We often plan for the worst-case scenarios. We do leave some margin to all our employees, but due to the nature of our work, we must be hands-on in several aspects.
What skills do you believe are necessary in handling a business?
Ambition. Perseverance. Confidence, without being arrogant.
What would you say are some dos and don’ts in starting one?
Do it for the right reasons. Do admit your mistakes. Do crave success and become desperate for it. Don’t be afraid of rejections. Don’t always compare with others. Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.
Was there ever a time you felt afraid that this might not work? How did you manage this fear?
Of course, but I tried to focus on what was working and amended what was not. I took the time to ask a lot of feedback from our clients as well in order to make improvements.
Do you have an interesting trivia about your business that you’d like to share?
Not sure if this is interesting, but I’ve encountered several people who think that working for a family business is a “walk in the park” or an entitlement. While, indeed, that might be the case for some, I’ve met a lot of Filipinos, who are working in their own family businesses, sharing this resentment and getting tired of being associated with the easy solution. Let me tell you that in my case, working with family is both a curse and a blessing at the same time.
Describe a typical day for you. How many hours of work a day do you put in? How many days per week?
I do morning yoga or play piano anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes. Then I have breakfast and coffee. The rest of my day goes like this: coffee – meetings – emails – more coffee – emails – and some outdoor activities such as climbing, running, and driving. I never calculated my hours but at some point, I stop. There is always more work to be done, so I’ve tried to find a work-life balance suitable for me.
Are you satisfied with the number of hours you work in a day or week?
No ideal number. It all depends on your business. The first year is often quite hard on both the mind and body.
What is your greatest fear?
To miss a deadline!
What sacrifices have you had to make to get here?
The usual time, money and family. But there’s also the fact that we move every one to three years to set up or assist a new office. This makes settling impossible and therefore, we tend not to get attached to either the country or the people.
With the Philippines, it was quite the opposite. Yes, the office was professionally challenging at first, but the fact that we had to extend our stay here and shuffle things around made us realized that, even though it is a challenging country, it is also a great place (and great timing) to settle in.
What can you consider is your greatest success?
Professionally (and so far), the Philippine office! Despite our age, we managed to turn around a largely indebted office with very little management experience into a profitable branch and satisfied clients. All these with no local contacts and no client base at first.
What would you say is the secret to success?
There’s no recipe, of course, but hard work, ambition, and straightforwardness made it happen.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Challenges, or whenever I hear “this is impossible”.
What motivates you?
My clients. There’s nothing more rewarding than delivering the passports or residency permits to a whole family. It is life-changer for them.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My life partner – I doubt I would have been able to pull the Philippine office back together without her. Our managing partners – they believed in me (us), despite our relatively young age, and gave us the challenge of a lifetime.
Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
Professionally speaking, we have the task to develop new markets, train our staff, and implement our office culture globally. We are looking at developing West Africa and Indonesia markets in the short-medium term.
Do you consider yourself an ambitious person?
Yes! I have a natural tendency to change and question things that are set. I like to bring in new ideas in order to evolve or transform the business. These tend to be quite a challenge in a traditional law firm.
Do you think being ambitious helps you in business? How?
Yes! Without ambition, I would have given up a long time ago. I knew that serving coffee and tea, making photocopies, and being the slave of whoever is above you was a necessary ordeal.
What piece of advice can you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Be bold, honest, and adopt a “no bullshit” approach.
Edits: Kath C. Eustaquio-Derla | Image Credit: Samuel Harvey, Harvey Law Group
Samuel Harvey is Harvey Law Group’s Director of Business Development in the Philippines and Hong Kong. He has extensive knowledge of investment immigration programs and assists in developing the firm. Samuel advises high and ultra-high-net-worth (UHNWI) individuals and their families on residency, permanent residency, and citizenship through investments.